Zach Kirtley — who was drafted less than two weeks ago — didn’t have to wait long to get involved in his first pro baseball game.
On just the fourth pitch of the night, the Batavia Muckdogs’ Sam Castro hit a sharp ground ball to the State College Spikes’ second baseman, who made the routine play for an out.
In the bottom of the inning, he found just the right spot for his grounder to the left side of the infield, barely out of reach of the Muckdogs’ third baseman and diving shortstop for a single. He later came around to score the Spikes’ first run during their 13-6 victory Friday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
“You know you’re ready at all times, but to get the first one of your career, the first at bat of the game, it’s pretty cool,” Kirtley said. “I got the first hit, the first ball hit to me and I made both of them and it just broke the ice right away.”
For the night, the rookie infielder was 1 for 5 with a walk and also reached on an error.
Defensively he was busy, including turning a double play at second and fielding a high chopper for the final out of the game.
He is the third Spike in the last two nights to get a hit in his pro debut, following Evan Mendoza and Brandon Benson on Thursday.
“It’s great for them because now they don’t have to press,” manager Joe Kruzel said. “They can grab the ball, put it on the mantle and now they can just go out and relax and play.”
It was an adequate start for the St. Louis Cardinals’ fifth-round selection in last week’s Major League draft, the highest pick signed by the franchise so far.
Kirtley hit .292 for the St. Mary’s Gaels this past season but had an impressive batting eye with a .433 on-base percentage thanks to his team-record-tying 48 walks. He also knocked five homers and 16 doubles, driving in 42 runs. He was even better as a freshman, batting .346 with a .429 on-base percentage.
“That’s a great thing to have,” Kruzel said. “A guy that doesn’t chase too much, that gives him a better chance of having success. That’s probably one of the things that’s kind of tough on younger hitters — because they want to ramp up, amp up, amp up, and then they might chase more and swing at pitches.”
The Highland, Calif., native was ready to make the jump to the next level, signing a $317,100 deal with the Cardinals.
He said it was tough to leave the only Division I school to give him a chance. He also was surprised to not feel any butterflies before the game.
“I’ve been here for a week, and I’ve been eager to play,” he said. “I was ready to go when they called my name.”
He did have to make one major adjustment.
He played Friday’s game through damp conditions, with on-and-off rain and drizzle most of the night — something he rarely saw in Southern California.
“I haven’t seen rain in a long time,” Kirtley said. “I think I did just fine. It didn’t affect my play at all. It didn’t affect my mindset. I just stuck with it.”
After that first-inning single, the rest of the night at the plate for the 20-year old was a little less memorable, striking out twice and leaving three runners on base. He also drew a four-pitch walk in the second inning.
But the single in the first was a keeper. The ball was collected from the field and tossed into the dugout.
“I’m going to keep it in my locker for a little bit,” Kirtley said. “Might send it to my parents, I don’t know. Definitely going to keep it safe. Even though it’s just one hit, it’s a big deal.”